How often do you go for a walk simply for walking's sake? As with many things in life, walking can become about the end goal, rather than the process itself. We walk to get from one place to another, to exercise the dog or we count our steps to stay fit. Of course, these things are all beneficial and perhaps even necessary, but what if the real value actually lies in the act of walking itself?
Personally, I have come to realise that the more I incorporate walking into my everyday life, the more it becomes a way of life. This practice can enhance all aspects of wellbeing. If you're intrigued about how, then read on!
I have always enjoyed walking, but during the pandemic I became more intentional about it, paying greater attention to its impact on my mental health. During lock-down, when we were restricted to our local area, I discovered another world right on my doorstep: networks of intriguing paths leading down alleyways and even beautiful green spaces, previously invisible to me! I developed a habit of taking a short walk every morning, and this offered a grounding anchor when the world felt unpredictable and unstable. This routine brought familiarity and reassurance in a tumultuous time. So helpful did I find this, that I have kept the routine going; why stop doing something so good?!
One of the silver linings of the pandemic for many of us (though certainly not all) was the freeing up of more time. When we were permitted to travel further afield in between the lock-downs, I spent hours exploring the nearby Peak District on foot, with its rugged hills and stunning views. Already a keen nature enthusiast, I fell in love with the natural world all over again. Perhaps my gratitude for beauty was sharpened having been relatively confined for some time?
Another important feature of the pandemic was that walking became the new way to spend time with people- at least for me- and one friendship in particular deepened through doing regular walks together. This is something else that continues to this day.
It was about this time that my sister Naomi and her partner embarked on an ambitious adventure trekking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), from the Mexico-US border, through the wilderness, all the way to the Canada-US border; a journey over 2000 miles and taking around five months to complete. For her, walking truly did become a way of life! When I asked her recently about her experience of walking the trail, this was her response:
The most powerful walking experiences I’ve had have been where I’ve slept right under the stars in a bivvy bag. The sky becomes your shelter. For days on end you have that direct contact with the outdoors and there’s something uniquely special in that. When I am walking in nature, I am usually in one of three states of mind, all of them good. The first is thinking. It’s a sacred space to process events, emotions, hopes and fears. It’s a quiet, safe place where the rhythm of your footsteps help to slow racing thoughts and often inspire new and helpful ways of thinking about things. The second is creative inspiration. I like writing, and the rich and endless soundscapes, shapes, colours and textures will often cause poems or phrases to float into my mind and I will stop to jot them down before I forget, or I will let them come and drift away, enjoying them as they pass. Thirdly, flow. A meditative headspace where I feel the trees and the rocks, the birds and the sky as an extension of myself. I am not thinking about anything in particular in this headspace but I feel a deep sense of relaxation and awareness of my surroundings. I can sit and stare at a log for many minutes and just absorb its beauty in a state of total rest.
If you're interested to hear more about Naomi's experience walking the PCT and other trails and pilgrimages, you can find links to her blogs and vlogs at the bottom of the page.
There is so much to say about the benefits of walking, it's hard to capture them all with words. The list below is an attempt to highlight a few:
I hope this blog has inspired you to introduce walking into your life! I would love to hear about your experiences. Please do leave a comment if you'd like to share them.
Link to Naomi's blog and vlog: